Do Colleges Check Social Media?

With the availability of personal information available publicly, colleges have started checking their applicants’ social media accounts. Have you double-checked your online presence?

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For the first time, students who have grown up with social media from a young age are applying to colleges. This means that there is the potential for years of embarrassing data to be dug up and exploited right? The short answer: Not necessarily… but maybe.

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Why would colleges check social media?

According to a survey by Kaplan, in 2015 up to 40% of college admissions officers admitted to checking a student’s social media at some point during the admissions process. In 2018, that number was actually down to 25%, in part because colleges were not turning up much useful information on existing profiles. However, this doesn’t mean you’re in the clear.

As you know, colleges care a lot about test scores and grades, but that is only a baseline for deciding who to admit. Colleges look for students who will be a strong member of the community and who uphold high standards of character. And social media can say a lot about that character. Colleges will check your social media to make sure that you don’t say or do anything glaringly inappropriate. They may be looking for things like bad language, name calling, or insensitive posts that appear sexist, racist, homophobic, or vulgar. But more often than not, inappropriate behavior is drawn to admissions officers’ attention by outside sources. 

In the past, there have been examples of students admitted to top colleges like Harvard, who then had their admissions rescinded for such behavior. In 2010, Harvard rescinded admission to ten incoming freshman after discovering sexist comments in a Facebook group. Since then, most students have been clever enough to put their social media settings on private, but even so, may not be fully protected.

In 2019, Harvard determined that even screenshots of private conversations can be used to deny or rescind an admission on the basis of character, as in the case of Kyle Kashuv, a Parkland shooting survivor whose admission was revoked after anti-Semitic remarks were brought to the attention of Harvard admissions. Although his comments were made before the age of sixteen and were in the context of a private conversation, Harvard still opted to disassociate themselves.  

“According to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers’ 2017 survey, 11% of respondents “denied admission based on social media content” and another 7% rescinded offers for the same reason.”

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How can I protect myself?

When it comes to social media or technology in general, remember that everything is public and everything is permanent. It is a good practice not to put photos on the internet that depict you in compromising positions and not to use words that you would be ashamed for your mother to read. However, it can also be a good idea to make sure all of your settings are private, and even consider using a pseudonym. 

Another good piece of advice is to not assume that everyone shares your sense of humor, and that is a lesson that transcends the admissions experience. In 2018, a woman took to Twitter to announce that she was offered an internship with NASA, but did so in foul language. NASA ended up revoking her internship and the gaffe made international headlines.

Before you post something of questionable taste, consider if it’s worth losing your dream college or your dream job over. Even if a college doesn’t check your profiles, it’s still a good practice.